Forgotten Dumbbell Pullover Exercise: Controversial Yet Effective

dumbbell pullover excercise

Dumbbell Pullover Exercise – Forgotten Old School Workout for Chest & Back Thickness

Being a gym-goer, I accept that dumbbell pullover exercise is not usually seen. If you’re regular, then you might have also noticed that it’s not quite common as it used to be. Usually, back in early 2008, when I started, I do use to see this workout, maybe due to the gym environment or else kudos to our trainers who use to recommend this exercise.

However, as I left that gym and started going to others, I started noticing that this exercise is not often in the trending list. Presently, it’s hardly seen in any local gyms unless the trainee is experienced enough and doing it for a long time. Even trainers are not recommending this exercise to their clients during their training sessions.

Quite doubtful. Many think it’s terrible for shoulders. So, is it that bad that you should avoid it?

Let’s decipher this exercise in detail and understand whether it’s really for everyone or not.

The Dumbbell Pullover Exercise – A Compound Exercise That Targets Chest & Back

In 1911, founder of the Milo Barbell Company and Strength Magazine Alan Calvert had declared that the barbell pullover is one of the best exercises for building a deep chest.

Also, there was a consistent trend of “squats and milk” routine, where skinny people were told to drink a gallon of milk every day and for training do squats and pullover exercise with high repetitions. And, more to amazement, this plan was provided from the very first day.

In the 1920s, it even becomes a trend to apply the strategy of heavy squats with high reps and pullovers with high-repetitions for building a vast body. And, quite surprisingly, it even worked, due to heavy lifting and significant calorie surplus.

Furthermore, it was even believed that if you’re looking to do only one or two upper body exercises, then the pullover exercise was known as a staple among that. The major reason behind that was the belief of ribcage expansion. Whether it’s a myth or real, that’s another thing, but many lifters of that time use to get good results doing merely two exercise squats and pullovers with milk.

History of Pullover Exercise – From Hot Favorite to Once Upon a Time

From the early 50s to the early 70s, the dumbbell pullover was considered one of the go-to chest and back exercises. All the golden era bodybuilders like Sergio Olivia, Reg Park, Lou Ferrigno, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many others stood by it. They were the big believer that pullover is one of the essential workouts for building the upper body.

Furthermore, from the 1970s to the ’80s, new inventions happened in the realms of bodybuilding equipment. Bodybuilders started to try their hands on that new equipment that was specialized for targeting specific body parts. And, one such was the Nautilus pullover.

arthur jones pull over build huge lats
Invented in the 70s by Arthur Jones, one of the bodybuilding gurus, Nautilus pullover was even considered as an upper-body squat because of its importance in exercises. And, since this Nautilus pullover machine came out, bodybuilders started inclining towards it, and the downfall of free weight dumbbell pullover exercise started. From the 1990s onwards, many functional fitness lovers even started bashing about it, and soon it’s even labeled as shoulder killer.

Pullover With Dumbbell – Is It Safe or Injurious to Shoulder

No matter which exercises you choose, whether it’s a pullover machine or pullover with dumbbell exercise or any other. If it’s not done correctly, it’ll cause injury. And another reason could be it is like you’re too weak or else you lack proper shoulder mobility for performing the pullover exercise.

Furthermore, if you think you don’t have proper shoulder mobility, then you can even check that. For instance, check whether you can perform overhead press with a full range of motion. If yes, then there’s no issue in mobility. If you can’t, then sadly, yes, you have a mobility issue, but you can work on it. Another test is, are you capable of doing pull-ups from the dead-hang position. If you can, then again, there’s no issue to go with pullover exercise.

How People Go Wrong With This Pullover Exercise

Similar to other exercises, if proper form is not maintained, then it can cause shoulder injury. However, some common mistake done by many for this exercise is like:

  • Not bracing the core.
  • Keep your arms straight and elbow locked. On the other hand, arms should be slightly bent.
  • Lastly, bending your elbows too much, which activates triceps.

Here’s How to Do Pullover Exercise Correctly

  • First, tighten your core area.
  • Get moderately heavyweight.
  • Avoid locking elbows in a straight arm position and keep it slightly bend.
  • For an overhead position, avoid over-stretching your elbows.
  • And, keep your shoulders retracted towards the bench.

Which Muscle Is Developed With Pullover Exercise?

Once there was a time when this pullover exercise was famously known as the upper-body squat, and there’s an apparent reason. It’s one of the compound exercises that hits every area of your chest and back. Depending upon you, how you execute this exercise, your back and chest both get worked separately. However, it does target both muscles.

Chest & Back – How to Position Yourself for Dumbbell Pullover Exercise

This pullover exercise can be done both lying on a flat bench or else lying across the bench, forming a cross. If you’re doing it forming a cross, then you should have someone to hold you down from your knees, or there are chances you might get slip your feet.

For handling dumbbell, hold it with both the hands forming a diamond shape on the top part’s dumbbell plates. Now, pull the dumbbell towards your thigh, get started, or ask someone to hand it to you.

Also, if you’re doing dumbbell pullover exercise for chest, then it’s suggested to keep your elbows slightly bend and stretch your back before your arms get parallel and then get the dumbbell back up using your pecs. Concentrate properly and try to contract your inner pecs at the top.

And, if you want to isolate your lats, then keep your arms straight and hips little tiled upward. Now, stretch your back as much as you can comfortably and then try to stretch out your lats as hard as possible. Also, be sure to come till the way up and squeeze your lats as hard as possible.

Closing Thoughts

Many gyms have forgotten this old school pullover exercise, and some even opt to go for stiff arm cable as an alternative. No doubt both are good exercises to follow on their own. But, pullover with a dumbbell has a slight edge over their alternative even over the Dorian Yate’s favorite pullover machine.

satinder chowdhry

Satinder Chowdhry

Satinder Chowdhry is the founder, gym enthusiast & regular contributor at who is passionate about bodybuilding & workout. Strangely, he was never into fitness and even started hitting the gym quite late during his post-graduation days to lose weight, but he got hooked on it after getting results. These days, he enjoys working out and writing fitness, bodybuilding & training-related articles. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned enthusiast, here you’ll find a collection of workouts, insights, and tips articles written by him to empower you on your fitness journey and transform your health and physique.

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